Pour Le Monde

Tan Sri Francis Yeoh and Bernard Arnault

The Peak, March 2014 issue

The house of Louis Vuitton is testimony that, in today’s world, business, art and culture are becoming increasingly, and vitally, intertwined.

You know a store is not a store when LVMH head honcho Bernard Arnault himself flies into town to pay it a visit. The recent inauguration of Louis Vuitton’s first Global Store in the country has certainly proven to be one for the history books. Designed to resemble a luxurious apartment, guests will be treated to the maison’s legendary offerings as well as be taken on a retail journey through its philosophy and core values of travel and savoir-faire. Having undergone a lengthy facelift last year, the brand recently christened its new-look Global Store with a string of firsts, including an haute maroquinerie salon that allows patrons to create their own bespoke bags, little universes dedicated to watches, jewellery, the art of travel and collections for men and women, as well as an entire series of inspirational artworks, including beLieVe, a specially commissioned piece by Ivan Lam, one of the stars of Malaysia’s contemporary art scene.

Louis Vuitton's first Global Store at YTL's Starhill Gallery

Sealing its importance in the LVMH family and demonstrating the brand’s commitment to Malaysia was the recent visit of the luxury conglomerate’s Chairman and CEO, Bernard Arnault, to view the space personally. Over a special welcome cocktail hosted by Ravi Thakran, Group President of LVMH South and South-East Asia, Arnault was taken on a store tour as well as shown the Malaysia’s League of Extraordinary Women photo exhibition, especially held in conjunction with the Global Store opening. “I am delighted to be here,”Arnault announced. “This is not my first visit, of course, as I remember the store being much smaller then. “Over the years, we have built a substantial offering and a wonderful business, and I was amazed when I entered the shop earlier today,” says Bernard Arnault, on the recently inaugurated Louis Vuitton Global Store at Kuala Lumpur’s YTL’s Starhill Gallery.

“Calling it a shop is the understatement of the year,” cheekily interjected Michael Burke, Chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton and one of Monsieur Arnault’s most trusted executives. Indeed, the gleaming new space is testament of the maison’s attachment to the country, ever since it opened its first store in Kuala Lumpur almost 30 years ago. “It is an exciting direction for Louis Vuitton in Malaysia and consistent with our aim of providing our clients with the highest levels of service, luxury and comfort when they visit,” added Christopher Kilaniotis, President of Louis Vuitton South Asia.

Aside from Lam’s beLieVe, a special paravent, covered in hand-painted wallpaper, was also created by New York-based Yolande Batteau for the store’s private salon, subtly reaffirming the maison’s great commitment to the arts. On a less subtle note, however, would be the opening of the Fondation Louis Vuitton Pour La Creation in Paris scheduled for October this year. “I want people who visit it to walk away knowing that Louis Vuitton is close to the arts and to illustrate the close relationship the brand has always had with the arts since the 19th century,” said Arnault.

Set on the edge of Paris’ Bois de Boulogne in the city’s 16th arrondissement, it is poised for greatness, certainly, as one of the architectural world’s most celebrated talents is behind its design. On Arnault’s choice of Frank Gehry, he notes, without missing a beat, that “I knew it had to be him immediately. I’ve always admired Gehry and I chose him without compromise after seeing his project in Bilbao,” he says, referring to the Pritzker Prize winner’s work on the Guggenheim Museum in Spain. “In fact, we had visited the Paris site together and Frank was almost crying...he was immediately inspired.” Conceived as a vessel with 12 immense soaring glass sails, the space will be devoted to contemporary art and will enable the general public greater access to a wide breadth of artistic creations. Louis Vuitton’s roots may, historically, lie in elegant carrywear, but it is interesting and wonderful to perceive how its single- minded devotion and commitment to fine craftsmanship has succeeded in transcending and, upending even, the worlds of art and culture.